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Slave, Servant or Co-worker

Yesterday I ended with the question “what do the goddesses and gods want from us?” I suppose I should apologize for the tease because that question, as stated, is absurd. It’s about as absurd as men asking “what do women want?” as though women are some monolithic group who all want the same thing.

A look at the ancient stories tells us that what Ares wants is very different from what Aphrodite wants. A look at the modern stories tells us that what Cernunnos wants from me is very different from what he wants from Juniper.

The old gods and goddesses have different interests and different areas of responsibility. Even those who occasionally collaborate or at least conference (such as the twelve Olympians) were never known to be working toward the same ends.

The question “what do my gods and goddesses want from me?” is another matter entirely.

I know some Pagans who say they are slaves of their gods. A deity claimed them and that was that. Their choice was to cooperate or be punished like a recalcitrant slave. Their free will has been taken – they do what they’re told, plus nothing minus nothing.

I make no comment on this arrangement except to say this has not been my experience.

Others say we are servants of the gods. They are older, stronger and wiser than us, therefore the natural order of things is that we should serve them. I have never called myself a servant, but I am a priest and I have described priests and priestesses as servants of the gods. As a priest it is my duty to commune with my gods in meditation and prayer, to make the offerings they require, to tell their stories and present them to the world. That is service, and it is service I willingly and eagerly perform.

But is that all they want? Wine and incense and prayers and praise? The gods and goddesses I worship are a pretty confident bunch – while we all like to hear others say nice things about us, they don’t need any of that. The wine and incense and prayers and praise are for my benefit, not theirs. They keep me connected to Cernunnos and Danu (to whom I am pledged as a priest), to Morrigan (who has taken a strong interest in me even though she hasn’t called me to her priesthood), to Isis and Osiris and Horus (who I serve every year at Summer Solstice) and the other goddesses and gods I encounter in story, ritual, meditation and in the wild.

What they want is for me to become more like them: more creative, more nurturing, more protective. More passionate and more loving. Stronger and wiser. More involved with the rest of Life because – like the gods – I recognize my connection to all of Life.

In his “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God.” Dr. King was writing from a Christian perspective, but the meaning is universal. If anything, this idea fits polytheism better than monotheism – an all-powerful God would have no need of co-workers, but gods and goddesses of limited power do.

There are things the gods want done and they need people to help accomplish them. And they don’t just want laborers to do the grunt work – although hard, dirty work is still necessary. They also want people to learn and grow and become more god-like themselves.

I’m not acquainted with Odin or Yemaya or Dažbog. Perhaps they want something totally different from their followers.

I’m called to do the work of my gods, and to become more god-like myself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. A lot of work.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11660020818713159502 Conor W.

    That is a question I have pondered myself, quite a lot. I am slowly reaching small conclusions about certain things, though I have to say I like your analysis quite a lot. The slave concept has always bothered me a smidge, but on the other end of that spectrum so does the idea of "Co-Worker". I'm not saying that it isn't a great working concept of course, one that sums up many important ideas, but I think it also has the connotation of being equal in most respects, and while the Gods certainly don't want us to grovel, I certainly don't feel that we are equal to them. Still, great piece, I always get a tad excited when I see that you have a new blog post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14359789803749362981 Lise

    Great post; I often ponder my relationship with the Gods and Goddesses because it's so different from what I see with people of mainstream religions. My Deity's are my family, they are wiser, they are patient, and they inspire me. They comfort me, point out where I'm stepping wrong, and rejoice with me. They heal me. I strive to be as they are, and I'm not saying I am where they are, I don't think I will achieve that in this lifetime, but I try like hell so that is a good thing. I don't understand the word worship, really; but I understand the word love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01113136601428581672 Sonja

    slaves and servants of the Divine = the invisible beings and humanity

    ascribing co-workers to the Divine = biggest possible mistake

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 John Beckett

    Conor – Thanks. I think part of the problem is the orthodox Christian idea that God is so great and humans are so small we can't even aspire to godhood. And the stories of our pagan ancestors warn us of hubris. No matter how hard I work, I don't expect to become a god… not in this lifetime, anyway. But it's not about what we are, it's about what we are becoming.

    Lise – Thank you. As with aspiring to godhood, I think the orthodox Christian idea of worshiping a god who is "totally other" colors our understanding of the word "worship". To worship is to acknowledge worth – by worshiping the gods I acknowledge their worth and the value of becoming more like them.

    Sonja – You're going to have to elaborate on that. Your second line could mean one of several things and I don't want to guess wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01113136601428581672 Sonja

    John, I don't know if this helps?

    "God presents an example: a slave or servant owned by quarrelling co-workers and another belonging exclusively to one man — are they equal in comparison? Praise be to God! But most of them do not know."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00875369837359076688 John Beckett

    Nope, still not clear. You could be a humanist who is convinced the gods are metaphors and nothing more, or you could be a conservative monotheist who believes God is wholly other. Or something totally different.

    Maybe I'm just dense today…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14442078951874960038 Morag Spinner

    Being a godslave does not mean a loss of free will. I blogged about being a godslave last year. You can read more in that post, and others tagged "godslave" on my blog.

    There may be people who say they're slaves of their gods and that they have no free will, but I've never met a single godslave who thinks that. A lot of us are very willful people, actually.

    Research is your friend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01113136601428581672 Sonja

    Say: God is a Single One
    God, the Eternal Refuge
    God has not given birth and was not born
    And like God there is none

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01113136601428581672 Sonja

    I don't know if that helps any.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14359789803749362981 Lise

    Sonja, I'm not quite getting what you mean. I truly believe the Gods/Goddesses are easy to communicate with and work with, so in a sense, co workers is a good term to use. Maybe I don't get what you're saying because I don't feel 'owned' by my Gods/esses, so I guess I am neither slave nor servant. I am part of their family.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14171058491211086596 Amanda

    Perhaps if co-worker sounds too equal, then how about employee? If you are your god's employee, then the god is still your boss and outranks you, but employees can still quit if they don't like the arrangement, unlike a slave.

    Some of my gods feel like bosses to me, that I do jobs for. Others seem more intimate, though. More like family, but elder family, so there's still a difference in rank. (Godslavery is not my thing either, though.)

  • Keith Campbell

    John, perhaps “collaborator” would be a more palatable term. It’s the one I prefer. :-)


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